In a passionate plea defending the Salem 8 lane project, Edappadi Palanisamy on 11th June 2018, said “The proposed highway will cut distance by over 60 km and bring down the travel time by half (it will be only about 2 hours and 15 minutes between Salem-Chennai) and lead to an annual saving of `700 crore worth of fuel’.
Compensation for land would be paid as per the new land acquisition law and would be a minimum of Rs 20 lakh per hectare, for concrete houses it will be Rs 340 per sq ft and for a coconut tree it is Rs 40,000. Allaying fears, he listed out various benefits that the highway would bring in and appealed to the public to extend cooperation.
The Chief Minister went to the extent of lying before the Assembly about the project. He claimed while extending the existing National Highways leading to Salem would require acquisition of 2200 hectares, the proposed 8 lane to Salem would require only 1900 hectares. But according to the NHAI feasibility report for 8 lane Salem project, a total of 2791 hectares needs to be acquired.
Further, the CM said, only 49 hectares of forest land would be acquired whereas the NHAI report says, 120 hectares of forest land is to be acquired.
Why is the CM stating a blatant lie before the Assembly ?
As per the Chief Minister’s version, if the 8 lane project is completed, one can reach from Chennai to Salem in 2.15 minutes. The entire stretch of Chennai Salem proposed highway is 277.30 kms. To cover the 277.30 kms, one has to drive at an average speed of 125 kms per hour. Taking into consideration the 8 Toll plazas, and other stoppages, one has to drive at 180 kms to maintain a 125 kilo meter average.
Even in the world class 6 Yamuna Expressway between Noida to Agra the maximum speed permitted is 100 kms only.
Eyebrows were raised, as to why the Chief Minister is so anxious to justify the project. And naturally opposition parties raised hue and cry over the project.
Actor Mansoor Ali Khan and Activist Piyush Manush, were arrested, for speaking against the 8 lane project. Activist Valarmathy, was arrested the next day, on the charges that she “threatened to kill the revenue officials who came to acquire land for 8 lane project”.
Sources in intelligence say, the clear instruction given to police is that any one who speaks against the project should be arrested and if necessary booked under the preventive Goondas Act.
What is the motive behind this anxiety of Edappadi Palanisamy ? Why would the CM refuse to extend the existing roads to Salem – Ulundurpet route & Krishnagiri route – and lay a new road, which cuts through 120 hectares of reserve forest ?
The mystery goes back to 13 years. In 2005, during Jayalalitha’s tenure, the State owned Tamil Nadu Industrial Development Corporation (TIDCO) entered into a joint venture with Jindal Vijayanagara Steels and formed an SPV, (Tamil Nadu Iron Ore Mining Corporation (TIMCO). The plan was to mine iron ore in 325 acres of Kavuthimalai Reserve Forest in Tiruvannamalai & 638 acres in Salem Kanjamalai reserve forest.
The estimated equity capital of the mining firm is Rs135 crore, of which Rs1.35 crore, or 1%, would be invested by TIDCO. This minority stake would be disinvested after three years, after which the ownership would be with TIMCO without any stake or benefit to either TIDCO or to the state government, though all permissions and approvals are being sought/obtained by stating that it is a joint venture project of the state.
Even a cursory glance at the terms of reference proves that this is an all out venture to favour the Jindals.
The proposed mining operations faced stiff opposition from the public. The mining operations, if conducted, would have impacted close to 51 villages which have had a flourishing agricultural economy. The proposed mine would result in the destruction of 325 ha. of undisturbed Reserved Forest. The mining would also have had negative impacts on agriculture, water sources, trees and herbs, and local wildlife.
The protesting parties against iron ore mining in the hills ranged from local villagers, to NGOs, to politicians, and independent professionals. Several citizen groups were formed during the process of mobilization against the proposed mine, benefication and pelletisation plants. Forms of protest included protest rallies, signature campaigns, and awareness campaigns through the potentially impacted villages, and court cases against TIMCO.
The Supreme Court appointed The Central Empowered Committee (CEC) dealt a severe blow to Jindal’s mining ambitions in Salem. The CEC in its 29 June 2009 order that Tamil Nadu Iron Ore Mining Corp. Ltd, or Timco, the joint venture, should not go ahead with the implementation of its iron ore, beneficiation and pelletization project. The report said “the permission sought for the felling of 2,22,397 trees of spontaneous growth in 325 hectares (ha) of reserved forest in district Thiruvannamalai for the implementation of the iron ore mining and pelletization project by Tamil Nadu Iron Ore Mining Corp. Ltd or TIMCO may not be granted,” CEC said in its report.
In February 2015, there was a mysterious forest fire in Kavuthi-Vediyappan hills destroyed most of the pristine forest.
A source in central government says, that the state owned Steel Authority of India (SAIL), would be disinvested soon, and 51 percent of the stakes are to be off-loaded. The disinvestment will happen in such a way that the Jindals would get the stake of SAIL. The source further added that, SAIL is being deliberately mismanaged in such a way that it is pushed towards losses, with reduced production capacity.
A source in the Intelligence Bureau, on condition of anonymity said, “the TIMCO joint venture between TIDCO & Jindal Vijayanagara Steel is all set to get the required clearances for its proposed mining activity both in Tiruvannamalai and Salem.”
If the Jindals get the required clearances, they would be mining iron ore in 325 acres of Kavuthimalai Reserve Forest in Tiruvannamalai & 638 acres in Salem Kanjamalai reserve forest.
The proposed 8 lane which runs through Tiruvannamalai and Harur and reaches Salem would directly benefit the Jindals if they commence their mining activity both in Tiruvannamalai and Salem.
In a shocking move, the Edappadi government has dropped the proposal widen the stretch of NH 45 between Trichy and Tindivinam as 6 lane and replaced it with the Salem 8 project. Further, government has also dropped proposal to widen the heavily congested Maduravoyal – Tambaram stretch of 19 kilometers for reasons that are not clear.
The aggressive pushing of this project down the throats of farmers, and general public clearly smacks of mala fide and smells of a big criminal conspiracy. Now the government has put the police machinery to arrest anyone who voices opinion against the project.
When the central government announced the Bharatmala road scheme, the 8 lane Salem project was not in the list.
For the first time, on 25th February 2018, CM Edappadi Palanisamy wrote to Nitin Gatkary, wherein the proposal about Salem 8 lane project was mooted. In his letter, Edappadi said,
“Considering the high traffic potential and importance of Salem City, I would like to suggest that a Green Express Way Corridor between Salem and Chennai cities be formed, that will substantially reduce the distance and save fuel. Such a new Expressway will boost the socio-economic status of the State in a big way. Moreover, the new stretch will mostly involve dry lands, wherein the cost of land acquisition may not be very high, when compared to the benefits.”
At the time of writing this letter, TN government was not even aware of the cost of land acquisition which is clear in the wordings of the letter.
Surprisingly, on the next day, i.e. on 26 February 2018, in a joint press conference, in which Edappadi Palanisamy participated, Surface Transport Minister Nitin Gatkari announced the Salem 8 lane project. By any stretch of imagination, no project in government gets, sanctioned overnight. That too a ten thousand crore project.
A senior police officer on condition of anonymity, had this to say about this project “This is a 10,000 crore project. Government has not consulted the intelligence in this regard. However, the state intelligence wing, anticipated law and order problem and indicated that people especially farmers and Tribals would protest vehemently against this project and would create serious law and order problem.
To my dismay neither the political head nor the administration head bothered about these issues. They want to shove this scheme down the throats of the public. The only reason could be for a fat bribe.
It is bounden duty of the Government to explain to the public in detail about the project. When there is alternate route available via Krishnagiri and Tindivanam, they can expand the available route by converting that as 6 lane. There is no urgency to lay a new corridor. When questions are raised on these aspects, there is a deafening silence from the government.”
Police officers who speak privately, are very pained that they are forced to make illegal arrests of innocent villagers. An officer remarked, “Our sins are increasing day by day”.
Modi government’s anxiety in implementing road projects without following any norms doesn’t augur well and has the right ingredients of a scam. A deeper probe into the entire Bharatmala may reveal many such scams.
With both the Modi government and Edappadi government acting in tandem, using force to silence protests of people, another Thoothukudi is in the making.